Over 70 million people take cholesterol medicine every day, making it about a $20 billion annual market.

While it’s certainly true that lowering your cholesterol can greatly reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke, is prescription medication really the best way to reduce cholesterol levels?

Making some simple dietary changes like reducing the amount of animal fat and increasing your dietary fiber goes a long way toward reducing your LDL (bad) cholesterol. In fact, diet alone can reduce your LDL by about 30%, which is equivalent to a starting dose of most cholesterol medications.

Red Yeast Rice to the Rescue

For those times when diet and exercise don’t work (btw, exercise rarely does anything to improve LDL levels), there’s a supplement called red yeast rice that can reduce cholesterol levels as much as a statin and still give you the same benefit of lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Red yeast rice has this power to supplant statins for cholesterol lowering. It was first introduced into Asian cuisine during the Ming Dynasty in the 1300s. This simple dish, also used as a food coloring for its reddish hue, is prepared by fermenting yeast of the species Monascus purpureus over rice. The rice takes on a reddish hue and a nutty flavor. It is used both as food and as an additive to color other dishes, including the famous Peking Duck.

Records suggest that during the Ming Dynasty red yeast rice was already recognized for its health benefits as a medicinal food. It was specifically purported to improve circulation and chi, or energy force. Given that preventing heart attacks and strokes might be thought of as being consistent with good energy and good circulation, it seems those ancient Chinese were onto something even back then.

More recently, scientists in the 1970s discovered that the active compounds in red yeast rice, called “monacolins,” were effective in lowering cholesterol. Monacolin K, the most promising of these compounds, was renamed “lovastatin” and patented as a prescription drug. Other drugs such as Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor soon followed.

Red Yeast Rice Preparations

Red yeast rice preparations contain monacolin K (lovastatin) along with a host of other biologically similar compounds. A typical red yeast rice preparation contains a number of active ingredients including isoflavanes (similar to the active compounds in soy or chocolate), sterols, and nine monacolins, one of which is lovastatin.

Red yeast rice comes in a 600mg capsule. The standard dose of 4 pills daily can reduce cholesterol by around 20-30%

Not only does red yeast rice reduce cholesterol levels, but studies in China suggest that red yeast rice can lower your risk of a heart attack by up to 60%. These results rival those of prescription medications.

Unfortunately, the quality of red yeast rice preparations tends to vary widely. The amount of monacolins (the active ingredients) in commercially available preparations of red yeast rice is very inconsistent, with some pills having zero active ingredients.

To make matters worse, the yeast fermentation process may yield a potentially toxic byproduct: citrinin. This toxin has been found in high concentrations in some preparations, particularly those with lower amounts of monacolins. Therefore, shopping blindly for red yeast rice products can be a risky proposition: you are either getting a lot of monacolins or a lot of toxin, and it’s nearly impossible to know which you’re getting.

We recommend a formula called Synastat, which is produced in the U.S. and is the brand favored by leading researchers.

Once you’ve bought red yeast rice you can try making it at home. Here’s a recipe:

Homemade Red Yeast Rice

  • Soak 1 cup rice in a large bowl of cold water until each grain is fully saturated, for about 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Drain the water from the bowl with the soaked rice and pour the rice into a cooking pan with a thickly lined bottom to prevent burning.
  • Add 1 ½ cups of water to the pan and cook on medium heat until the water begins boiling. Put a lid on the pot and turn down the heat to the lowest setting and let the rice simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the stove and allow the rice to sit in the pot for about 10 minutes more, so the grains can settle.
  • Remove the lid and check to see that all water has been absorbed. Then sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of powdered red yeast rice over the rice, and mix together.
  • Put the lid back on the pan and allow the mixture to incubate at room temperature for three to six days. During this time the rice should become cultured and will turn a reddish purple color.

 

If you have high cholesterol and are unwilling or unable to take a statin, it is worth considering red yeast rice. As with any medication change, consult your doctor before switching to red yeast rice. You should definitely not take red yeast rice without consulting your doctor if you are currently taking medication for cholesterol.

 

Photo from letstalkvitamins.com